You may disagree but if the Guardian did not exist it would be necessary to create it. Not because of the sometimes perceptive journalism, not even for their kindness in employing dyslexic proof readers, but simply for the laughs.
Every so often, amongst the reports on the rising tide of Islamophobia, vile actions by Jews (sorry Zionists), brave homosexuals defying convention by actually kissing on screen and the latest machinations of the far right to seize power and chain every woman to the kitchen sink, we find a very earnest article so outrageous that it seems like a parody of a very earnest article in the Guardian. Then we realise; no, the children have been let loose with the crayons again and the wallpaper is in a terrible mess.
The latest example of the spoof that is real is an article by Tracy Van Slyke, a writer we are warned who ‘researches and writes about the intersection of social justice and pop culture’. Her latest venture into the dangerous world of subliminal messaging promoting a fascist takeover of the West is Thomas the Tank Engine. If McCarthy searched for reds under the bed Van Slyke searches for fascists in the toy box.
It seems that Revd WV Awdry, engine enthusiast and father of a measles stricken young son Christopher, was not writing something to cheer up a little boy, he was actually penning a hymn of hate, a paean of praise to all that is wrong and wicked in the modern world.
The Thomas stories are clearly, according to Ms Van Slyke, such a dangerous source of ‘subversive messages’ it is imperative that ‘children everywhere’ must be ‘saved’. Consider this, Thomas and his chums, ‘toil away endlessly on the Isle of Sodor – which seems forever caught in British colonial times’. Clearly in the Van Slyke imagination this is an attempt to indocrinate little children in the values of empire and exploitation. Most of us would think that one might as well complain that Shaekespear is too Tudor or John Grisham too American.
Further the characters are all male which sets ‘a bad example for girl wannabe train engineers’. To further the wickedness they are controlled by a fat, ‘imperious, little white’ man who acts as the ‘Monopoly dictator of their funky little island’.
Mr Awdry, born in 1911, spent his adult life serving in country parishes mainly in the West of England and also in the Isle of Man, or Sodor as the diocese is termed. The stories are set in the 1940s, a time when Britain was, in the term employed by Greg Dyke when director general of the BBC, ‘hideously white’. In fact in 1945 the Isle of Man was 100% white and today is pretty much the same. Nevertheless, that the Fat Controller is white is enough to cause Ms Van Slyke a fit of the vapours.
The Thomas books and TV programmes are viewed as a poisonous stew of ‘classism’, ‘sexism’, and ‘anti-environmentalism bordering on racism’. Thomas is banned in the Van Slyke household because, ‘The constant bent of messages about friendship, work, class, gender and race’ undoubtedly send her ‘kid the wrong message’. Van Slyke urges us to, ‘Look through the steam rising from the coal-powered train stacks’, and you will quickly ‘realise that the pretty puffs of smoke are concealing some pretty anachronistic messages’.
The substance of the environmental racism accusation lies in the steam-diesel dichotomy. All the nice characters are steam engines and the nasty characters dirty diesels. This is not because Mr Awdry, at a time when diesel was replacing steam, was nostalgic for the engines of his youth. Not for a moment; it becomes clearly racist when we note that the nice steam engines emit white smoke whilst the nasty diesels emit black smoke. Obviously isn’t it?
In ‘Tickled Pink’ the other engines make fun of James when he is painted pink ‘”What are you doing James? You’re a big pink steamie,” says Diesel, the bad-boy engine.’ Once again we can be in no doubt as to what the underlying message is in that story.
Ms Van Slyke has ears so keen she can hear bats never mind dog whistles. It is possible to go on, but why spoil your fun? Next time you are down and feel that the world is closing in on you, read the article, it is sure to make you smile.
The Guardian, don’t you just love it?